As I walk towards the entrance of the Park on 90th Street, I pass an older man of color asleep in an alcove of a prewar building, now home to an embassy.
His name is James, who has lived outside in Carnegie Hill (86th to 96th along Fifth and Madison), for the past 40 years.
I’ve watched him age as a young man, his black hair turning gray then white, with a full set of teeth, now down to 3, causing him to whistle a bit when speaking.
He’s sane, well as sane as one can be being humbly homeless for so long, and friendly, since he’s known to at least two generations of Upper East Siders. I recall him telling me he stopped smoking, because it was bad for him.
He sleeps across from the lady in the box, a woman I’ve written about, also on the streets way too long. There’s comfort in this, knowing, James would never harm her, but protect her if necessary.
Is it a wonder a homeless man can be one to count on?
In James’s case, yes.
I remember years ago, faithfully attending 7 a.m. mass at The Church of Saint Thomas More, while James snoozed in a back pew, snoring soundly.
The late, Bishop Ahern, the sweetest member of any clergy, would excuse himself from the altar to gently shake James whispering, “James, could you please snore a little quieter?”
James would jump and say, ‘Sorra’, sorra’ Bishop, I’m so sorra’.”
Bishop Ahern would answer, “That’s okay son. Have pleasant dreams,” blessing him before commencing with mass.
Peggy, a longtime worker at the church told me, many members of the parish, including Jackie Kennedy, tried helping him with work, as well as finding a home.
He always politely declined, she said, even when the Bishop, whom he liked tried, preferring to just live his life like a man, perpetually crossing the desert in no hurry to reach the Promised Land.
I don’t know about you, but after looking at all I have, often taking it for granted, find great poignancy in that.